Creepy is in the eye of the beholder

CREEPY #1   (DARK HORSE COMICS, July 2009)

     Illustrated horror of the short-story variety finds another new outlet in the re-boot of CREEPY, to be published quarterly via Dark Horse Comics.

      creepy 1    This standard format-sized, 48 page black and white comic attempts to re-animate the form  and revive some excitement for disturbing short stories with scary punch-lines of the type once popularized by the original CREEPY and EERIE black and white comic magazines back in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  Greatly influenced by the even older EC Comics TALES FROM THE CRYPT and THE VAULT OF HORROR, etc. it was time for CREEPY (and soon EERIE) to be brought back to life, especially since their pappy (TALES FROM THE CRYPT)  has been doing reasonably well in it’s new series from Papercutz.  Also, with the recent success of the CREEPY and EERIE hardcover reprints from Dark Horse Comics it was inevitable that a spin-off group like New Comic Company would come forward with a proposal to create original works in the spirit of the old.

     CREEPY magazine was first introduced to me at the tender age of eight while learning my multiplication tables and geography at a Catholic school, under the tutelage of several large and towering nuns looking very Goth sans any make-up or jewelry (except for the rosary beads that looked too much like the knuckle bones of small children)  in their black cloaks and cowls concealing their hair. (Meet Sister Druid.  The only way you could tell the nuns were female was because the priests didn’t dress the same way.)   A fellow third-grader terrorist/closet psycho cautiously passed me his copy of CREEPY #3 which I deftly palmed into my book bag for secret reading in my bedroom behind a closed door. (It seemed forbidden, like I shouldn’t be reading this  - -  which added excitement to the feeling of dread induced by some of the stories and art).

     Along with the scary stories I marveled at the incredible over-sized art in black and white. I was introduced for the first time to the use of shading and shadows to enhance a mood or effect in the story (Alex Toth and Neal Adams, among others) and learned that panels didn’t have to be square and four, six or nine to a page - - they could be rectangular or jagged and angled and over-lapping (Gene Colan).  I still remember because this was the first time I noticed that a comic would credit the writer, artist and inkers (not the first company to do this, but rather the first time I paid attention to it.)

     My reading interests took me beyond my time with CREEPY and EERIE (and VAMPIRELLA was gorgeous, but not very scary). I credit those magazines for chasing me to the library to check out H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, Mary Shelly, Bram Stoker and others, which introduced me to the world of great literature of a horrific nature.  So, you can imagine my excitement and anticipation once the re-launch of CREEPY was announced by Dark Horse.

     I wish I liked this book as much as I want to like it.  While it does capture the spirit of the original works, the story and art falls a bit short in execution.  It’s still worthy of your time and support - - for we need to see more quality horror anthology titles on the racks and hopefully they will lead others to pursue some great works on the book-shelves (like King, Barker, Campbell, Clark, Simmons and others).  Part of the let-down may be my fault.  I’m not the same person I was and you can’t always turn back the page and get the same results.  I’ve read so much since then and been exposed to so many great horror stories and movies that I’m a little bit jaded - - so a lot of this is going to seem “same-same” to me.  It wasn’t very hard to figure out where several of the stories in CREEPY #1 were heading, and that spoiled some of the fun.  I also confess to having a similar let-down after reading the first issue of Papercutz’s TALES FROM THE CRYPT several years ago (and I haven’t bothered to go back).

     The cover by Eric Powell  is very well done - - good art, good use of color and depicts a confrontation in a swamp between a three-headed monster and two surprised businessmen (who apparently waded right in with their suits on!) - - but it’s not scary at all – just kind of dumb. Only one of the three heads is actually looking at the men (the pig head, and it appears to be half blind). The snake head is looking the wrong way (maybe not interested), and so is the wolf head  which looks to be yawning (wonder why?) instead of roaring.   Instead of being a little bit scary or “creepy” this cover is just sort of . . . . .  . dumb.  The actual 3-headed monster as depicted in the story (“Hell Hound Blues”) is much more menacing and replaces the pig with a boar and the wolf with a rat. And the couple who end up facing the monster in the story sure aren’t anything like these two businessmen. (Did the writer or editors send different messages to cover artist and story artist? Sloppy.)

      Please take a minute to look at the enclosed art from the Creepy archives – you have to admit that creepy2_400it’s much scarier and more mood-evoking than the cover art for CREEPY #1.  It’s also unfortunate that the other selection of good art in this issue is the frontispiece by Bernie Wrightson - - a sketch that teases and begs for more. (Please). 

     The first issue includes four new stories, a short “feature”, and a reprinted story from the original title.   The first two stories feature good story and art, and it goes down hill from there until the reprint wraps up this issue.

     “The Curse, Part One” takes a previously-used premise (the power of suggestion, with consequences) and scripter Joe Harris makes it work with some concise and sometimes clever dialogue coupled with some eerie artwork that helps set the proper mood and conveys the grisly message through the half-mad, glazed look on several of the characters. Thank Jason Shawn Alexander for the twisted pencils.

     I’ve seen so many variations on the conflict and resolution depicted in “Hell Hound Blues”  that I lost count but it’s my favorite story here, not because of the actual plot but more for the execution (yeah, that’s what I’m talking about) of the story-telling and art.  The story by Dan Braun has a nice flow, and he does a good job of conveying the selfish nature of the two record store employees who make the trip to the swamp in search of a legendary recording by Junior Johnson, cousin of blues master Robert Johnson who allegedly made a trade with the devil, exchanging his soul for the guitar-playing skills.  This is the most complete looking art in the book, with all shades and lines carefully detailed. The work of Angelo Torres looks very much like it was influenced by the great Mort Drucker (Mad magazine).

     You will certainly figure the ending of  “Chemical 13”  long before the 10 page story ends. Nazis in 1943 Germany try out some new chemical gas on prisoners and it turns them into zombies to lie in wait for the next military team to investigate the base, who don’t find any troopers around and don’t think anything is out of the ordinary except that prisoners were apparently mistreated and underfed.  Even I could tell from the interesting and different art work (the “wash” effect) that they were zombies. 

“All The Help You Need” borrows from classic short story “The Most Dangerous Game” in a story about desperate overweight dieters willing to attend a secluded camp with a different approach to weight loss.  It could have been a good story if the art wasn’t so cartoony and at least a few of the characters were depicted as deserving of some sympathy or empathy. creepy 2 I found the script to be a little mean-spirited but, alas, not at all scary or even engaging. I couldn’t wait for this story to end.

   The two-page feature Loathsome Lore with a history lesson of “Faustian Deals” narrated by Sister Creepy has some excellent detailed art by Hilary Barta and  is gratefully just two pages of snore until it ends by trying to make us feel guilty with a pointed question. 

    Issue #1 ends with a reprint, “Daddy And The Pie” a decent if also somewhat familiar story by Bill Dubay that is worthwhile thanks to the art of Alex Toth. A farmer and family rescue an alien from a crashed spaceship, bring him back to health and them put him to work on the farm (just another family member) until the townsfolk find out and don’t take kindly to foreigners.  It’s an unusual selection for the first issue, since it’s the least scary/horrific story of the entire issue.

    Have I gotten this far only to tell you not to spend any of your time or money on this book?  Not really.  I think this book deserves a chance.  I also think they need to upgrade the story and art in order to draw in a larger audience.  This could be a great book - - it isn’t now - - but I hope it gets there.  I plan to give Issue #2 a look, and that will determine if I go any further with CREEPY.

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